Art & Copy, a celebratory documentary about the history of the advertising industry, is as visually enticing as any of the puffery revisited during its run time. All the big ones are here, from the Lyndon Johnson “Daisy” spot to the “Just Do It” Nike slogan inspired by the final words of spree killer Gary Gilmore. Yet director Doug Pray barely probes the troubling depths of these cultural signifiers and the people who created them. His film is less an illuminating examination than it is an act of myopic rehabilitation.
It doesn’t matter how much garrulous delusion the subjects spout. Pray buys it wholesale and propagates the myth that there’s something to respect about getting inside people’s heads and rewiring them into mass-consumptive lemmings. Particularly cringe-inducing is the section in which the director traces the aesthetic history of the reprehensible vote-for-Reagan TV spot “Morning in America” to the troubled childhood of its originator, Hal Riney. It comes off as a cheap way to stoke liberal ire while carefully eliding the more deep-rooted issue of how politicians on both sides of the aisle make use of similarly in-your-face fear-mongering. By the end of Pray’s skin-deep love letter, only one sweeping reaction seems appropriate: “A pox on all your houses.”